Gulf Today, Sports Reporter
A galaxy of stars including Paralympic and world champions will return to their favourite hunting ground as the Emirate gets ready to host the season opening 15th Fazza International Para Athletics Grand Prix — Dubai 2024 at the Dubai Club for People of Determination grounds from Monday.
The event, which is set to witness 573 athletes from 71 nations in action for four days, holds significance in gaining important world ranking points in the road to Kobe 2024 World Para Athletics Championships in May and Paris 2024 Paralympic Games in August besides celebrating its 15th anniversary, a milestone the local organisers are immensely proud of.
The star-studded line-up include legends like Marcel Hug of Switzerland, a six-time Paralympic champion and a regular at Dubai Grand Prix, who will be challenged by legendary British wheelchair racer David Weir.
Weir, one of the most successful and celebrated Para athletes in the history of the sport with 10 Paralympic medals, will be making his first appearance at the event and his presence will make the men’s 400m T54 races the highlights of the championships.
The women’s field includes greats including Great Britain’s wheelchair racing legends Catherine Debrunner (women’s 400m, 800m T53) and Hannah Cockroft (women’s 100m, 800m T34) who will aim to extend their good run in Dubai. They already have had a fabulous start to the season with gold medal winning performances in 12th Sharjah International Open Para Athletics Meeting 2024.
With teams like Great Britain, Japan, Algeria, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia have sent sizeable numbers of athletes, the hosts will be fielding the biggest team of 47 with their Paralympic star Mohammed Al Hammadi leading the charge.
The five-time Paralympic medallist will be in action on the opening day in the men’s 800m T32 wheelchair race, challenging himself and his rivals including Paralympic champion Walid Ktila from Tunisia.
Hammadi will be aiming to have a better week after his bronze medal finish in Sharjah.
“The wheelchair races have become more competitive now with technology playing a big role in the power and speed of the racers. I hope I can produce good timing here, a competition which I always enjoy participating in. It’s going to be a good race with a lot depending on how we tackle the wind.”
While athletes praised the weather and track conditions, Paralympic star Cockroft was looking to build on a good start to the season, from Sharjah.
“I have been competing in these championships (Dubai) for eight years now. It’s always a good time to figure out where you are and where you need work on going forward. It’s a good track and always promises a good combination of different countries, different competitors, so you are always going to get a good race here. The event is well organised and so, we are confident that the races are going to be well-run and it’s a good opportunity to go quickly in bright weather.
“I will look to build on what I did in Sharjah, and hopefully I go a little quicker here. For me, the opportunity to race in mixed class is a massive opportunity and I want to make the most of it,” she added, aiming for a repeat of her golden show here. Cockroft had three gold medals at the 12th Sharjah International Open Para Athletics Meeting 2024.
Besides, there will also be a few who will be aiming to make a mark on the big stage and learn to compete alongside the stars.
Iran’s Roya Beikpourtanha was all excited to make her debut at this important event. “It’s awesome to be here. I am super excited to be here. The track looks good and the weather too. I hope I can put up a good show in my event,” said Beikpourtanha, a three-time national champion in Iran and will compete in women’s 100m T44. Iran will have three more women players in their team.
Chairman of Fazza International Championships Thani Juma Berregad and Director of Championships Majid Al Usaimi hoped for another successful event and thanked the athletes as the championships reached its 15th year milestone.
“This is a special edition as the Fazza Championships is celebrating its 15th anniversary and we wish the very best to all the participating athletes in achieving their goals at the championships. We hope that the event will provide a good start to the athletes as they strive to qualify for the Paris 2024 Games,” said Usaimi.
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